Today, I preached at the funeral of a dear friend, whose sudden and untimely death has shaken us in her circle of acquaintance. My responsibility in the midst of this was to share the hope that she had, and that all may have, in Jesus Christ in the face of death.
Here is the message I shared, in written format:
“RECEIVING THE KINGDOM”
FUNERAL MESSAGE TO HONOUR
THE MEMORY OF DARLENE WILD
I’m not always prepared to admit this publicly, so please show a little mercy: I grew up listening to country and western music. And my father, who turns 75 tomorrow, asked me to create a “best of” CD for him with some of the more popular songs of such esteemed artists as Charley Pride, Merle Haggard, and, of course, Tom T. Hall. So, off I surfed to ITunes, to purchase and download the songs Dad was asking for.
Once I had purchased the songs and burned them to a CD, I was listening to the disc to make sure that the process had happened successfully. And what I was left with was a flood of memories, since each one of those songs had once emanated from speakers in the living room of my childhood.
Memories, for the most part, are a blessing from the Lord. Particularly at times like this, when we remember someone we have loved, memories of good times are what help us to heal.
My memories of Darlene stretch back to 1992. When I came into The Presbyterian Church in Canada, and began renting the manse in Tara, the Presbytery appointed Ken to serve as an advocate for me in the process. We began meeting together and, forged a friendship that extended to our wives. The four of us enjoyed several long evenings over dinner at Grosvenor’s, though probably not enough of them. Ken and Darlene travelled all the way to the middle of Ohio to celebrate my doctoral graduation. And when I introduced Ken to some of Cuba’s finer exports, Darlene quietly tolerated our enjoyment of those exports.
After we moved out of the area, Ken and Darlene would host us in their home. Their spare bedroom was decorated liberally with dolls and stuffed animals. It was this that reminded me of Darlene’s faith. There was never any doubt in my mind that she loved the Lord Jesus Christ and sought to serve him with every ability that God had given her. And she did so simply, in a way that I consider child-like – not childish, but child-like.
Jesus spoke positively of child-like faith. The writers of three gospels record the time when Jesus had to rebuke his friends for trying to keep folks from bringing their kids to Jesus. In Mark’s rendition of the story, in Mark 10.13-16, we read, “People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant [in other words, he was ticked with them!] and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you [which is Jesus’ way of saying, ‘listen; this is important’], whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.”
We are sad today, and we have every reason to feel sorry for ourselves. We are bereft of a daughter, a wife, a friend, who meant so much to us. But I want you to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we have no reason whatsoever to feel sorry for Darlene. Why? Because she loved the Lord Jesus and received the kingdom as a little child. Darlene was, in faith as in every other part of her life, a what-you-see-is-what-you-get kind of person; she had no agendas, no pretensions, no airs. She took pleasure in simple things. She was who she was – a committed follower of Christ who lived her faith in a child-like manner.
Because of her faith – and because of her faith alone – we can be assured that Darlene stands now in the eternal presence of the living God, where there is no pain and no sorrow, where there is no need to test blood sugar or inject insulin before partaking of the great heavenly banquet that God has prepared just for her.
God invites us to consider whether we have that same confidence for ourselves. Jesus said, in comforting his friends before his death and resurrection, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14.6). The loss of a loved one, especially at an age where we would expect to have her among us for another thirty years, brings us face-to-face with our own mortality. But the fact is that we cannot know with confidence the length of our years. So the time to consider your relationship with the Lord is now. Will you, like Darlene, receive the kingdom as a little child? Will you trust the Lord Jesus with a child-like faith? If you will, then you will be able to say, with confidence, that your help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth (Psalm 121.2).
Some folks will say that while this was important for Darlene, it doesn’t necessarily make it important for them. But if you think that way, let me ask you a question: what truly gives you comfort? The first question of the Heidelberg Catechism, an affirmation of faith from the Dutch Reformed tradition, asks this pivotal question: What is your only comfort in life and death?
I love the answer set forth by the divines of old: It says that my only comfort in life and death is “That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, both in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ. He has fully paid for all my sins with His precious blood, and has set me free from all the power of the devil. He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation. Therefore, by His Holy Spirit He also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for Him.”
That is an eloquent statement indeed, but it merely speaks the simple message of the Bible: that God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die but have eternal life (John 3.16).
When followers of Jesus die, they do so with the comfort of belonging to Jesus. Many years ago, a hymn writer penned words that simplified that affirmation of faith:
Jesus my Lord will love me forever,
From Him no pow’r of evil can sever,
He gave His life to ransom my soul;
Now I belong to Him;
Now I belong to Jesus, Jesus belongs to me,
Not for the years of time alone, But for eternity.
Do you have that comfort, in life and in death? Do you belong to Jesus? It doesn’t need to be complicated. For Darlene, it was simple. It was basic. It was all that it needed to be. Despite other things that complicated her life, her devotion to God and his church was simple.
And it can be that way for you, too. If you want to honour Darlene’s memory, make a simple commitment to Jesus. Follow him in child-like faith as she did. Receive the Kingdom for now and forever by making Jesus your Lord.
One of those Tom T. Hall songs I downloaded for my Dad was called “Old Dogs and Children and Watermelon Wine”. With a title like that, it couldn’t be anything but a country song! It’s about the troubadour encountering an old man in a bar, who shares his unsolicited wisdom. One of the verses goes like this:
“Old dogs care about you
even when you make mistakes.
God bless the little children
while they’re still to young to hate.”
When he moved away I found my pen
and copied down that line
About old dogs and children and watermelon wine.
“God bless the little children while they’re still too young to hate.” Darlene was not one to hate, even when small-minded church people frustrated her. We might say that Darlene was too young to die, never mind hate. And that’s true, from our finite perspective. But she lived long enough to leave us an example of faithful Christian living. And now she stands with the whole company of heaven as one of God’s treasured saints, worshipping face-to-face the Lord she served. Let that be our encouragement, and in following her example, may it be your hope today.
Darlene will remain in my memory, and in many others’, for a very long time to come.